New Hampshire is aiming to reduce the wait for emergency psychiatric admissions to the state hospital.
Patients are now enduring waits as long as several days.
“It is unacceptable for someone experiencing a psychiatric crisis to have to wait this long for critical inpatient care, for both the individual as well as their concerned family members,” said Nicholas Toumpas, Health and Human Services Commissioner in announcing the plan yesterday.
The delays affect communities, too, because advocates say those experiencing mental health crises end up stuck in hospital emergency rooms, in trouble with the law or they simply stop trying to get help.
“It’s wrong medically, legally, ethically and morally. We don’t do this with any other medical condition,” said Ken Norton, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - New Hampshire .
Toumpas blamed budget reductions, the closure of local psychiatric units and the loss of 60 beds at the state hospital since 2009 for the waiting list.
The issue came up in Salem last month when Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten blamed the state’s mental health system for failing a man police have dealt with repeatedly over many years.
“We’ve had over 40 contacts with him over eight to 10 years,” Patten said at the time. “In our opinion, the mental health system in the state of New Hampshire is failing him.”
And with that failure, he said, comes a great physical risk to the man’s family, police officers and the community.
“This is eventually going to have tragic consequences if this isn’t dealt with,” he said last month. “We’re in fear for his family, his friends, the safety of our officers who have to respond to these calls on a regular basis.”
In response, Dr. Robert MacLeod, the CEO of New Hampshire Hospital, said times have changed.